By John Shaughnessy, Catholic News Service
INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — Tekla Bedwell’s adventures include the year she worked aboard a luxury yacht crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Spain.
The 31-year-old Bedwell also has traveled to France, Greece, Italy, Hawaii and the Bahamas. And she went to India on a spiritual quest.
Yet none of those trips or destinations ranks as the best place that Bedwell has experienced in her young adult life.
Instead, that place in her life physically and spiritually revolves around a log cabin on the south side of Indianapolis.
It’s where the Indianapolis native and the member of St. Jude Parish has come home to live, and where she is savoring the two great joys of her life — her bond with her family and her relationship with God.
The log cabin sits on a piece of grassy, tree-lined land, near the home of her sister, her brother-in-law and the two nieces and three nephews whom she adores.
It also is the place where she has increasingly drawn closer to God after a whirlwind journey around the world — during which she teetered on the edge of losing her way, her faith and herself at times.
It’s a long, soul-searching journey that includes the atheist captain of a yacht who challenged her faith, a priest who guided her after a struggling time in a foreign country, and a prayer she made to Jesus that set her life and her faith back on course.
After dropping out of college, training to become a massage therapist and living at home for three years, Bedwell sought more adventure. In 2013, she pursued what she considered then “the coolest thing you’re ever going to do” — working on a private luxury yacht and traveling around the world.
“The captain who hired me was an atheist and was stubbornly convinced that he could argue my silly religious views out of me,” she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. “He is largely responsible for driving me to seek answers within the Catholic Church.”
“By the end of our Mediterranean season,” she said, “I was filled with the world but unfulfilled in my spiritual life, and hungry for a more authentic lifestyle.”
Eventually she went to India to immerse herself in the spiritual practice of yoga. She became distant from Christ and her Catholic faith.
“For the first time in my life, I made the conscious decision not to attend Mass, and I set my religion aside in order to fully engage in the culture and religion of the world around me,” she recalled. “Throughout the yoga teacher training, I engaged in practices that the early Christian martyrs died over rather than participate in.
“As I chanted in Sanskrit and offered prayers at fire ceremonies involving Hindu deities, the First Commandment of ‘I am the Lord, your God, you shall not have other gods besides me’ was far from my mind. I eventually fell into a toxic relationship and found myself at rock bottom in the middle of a foreign country, desiring above all to find a Catholic church.”
She found one, participated in a Mass celebrated in Hindu and approached a priest afterward. For six hours, the priest focused on her, listening to her confession and responding to her questions and concerns.
“I questioned what I had been chanting in yoga and asked the priest what he thought about the particular mantra I’d been repeating: ‘Lead me from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from death to life,'” Bedwell said. “The priest smiled and said, ‘Isn’t it beautiful that Jesus answers that in saying, ‘I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life.’
“Through faith in Jesus, I saw the Eucharist for the first time as truly the ‘source and summit’ of the faith. The Mass became my absolute life source because I experienced Jesus giving me himself as flesh to heal my flesh.”
Bedwell considers that experience as her “St. Paul moment of conversion.” She soon returned to Indiana and began attending Mass every day — but her spiritual journey wasn’t over.
During a retreat in New York in 2016, as she was discerning whether to become a Maryknoll lay missionary, she asked God: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
“Up to this point in my life, I had never actually asked God before what he wanted. I simply made decisions and presumed he would catch up along the way. I prayed that prayer and did the classic, ‘Open the Bible to random page and find the answer.'”
Bedwell’s opening of that random page led her to the Bible verse of Mark 5: 19: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Returning to Indianapolis, she joined a Bible study and began to share her story among friends.
Even when she was running away from God, “he was still seeking me,” she remarked. “And like the lost sheep or the prodigal son, he found me.”
This past summer in Indianapolis, Bedwell told the story of her faith journey to more than 200 people at a “Theology on Tap” get-together, an informal social event focused on developing faith and friendship in the archdiocese’s young adult Catholic community.
Her welcoming of God in her life also is evident in the atmosphere she has created inside the two-story cabin she calls home. Crucifixes, statues of Jesus and images of Mary are on display at every turn.
She has opened the place for Bible study and prayer groups. And she chooses not to have a television to make the space open and contemplative for her to know God’s presence.
“I keep this place holy and set apart for prayer,” she says. “When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he taught them the Our Father. Then he teaches them how to pray. Jesus says to go into your inner room, shut your door and pray to your Father. I think he’s telling us to go in our hearts to that place where it is just you and the Father. That’s what I try to do.”
She added, “All the things I’ve done in the world, I’m just looking forward to what God has next for me. He really does follow me down every path.”